Bilingual author Ana Castillo spent last Wednesday morning in the Arcus Center, engaged with students of the Reading The World: Social Justice course, taught by English professor Dr. Shanna Salinas.
Students used the class period to ask questions about her life, work, and beliefs, especially in regards to her newest work Black Dove.
“In this book, I’m focusing on the ‘angry males of color’. As women, we know why we’re angry but we don’t question why they’re angry,” explained Castillo. “There [are] all kinds of challenges for young men of color. I want to have that dialogue.” More specifically, Castillo frames Black Dove around the experience of raising her son as a single mother in inner city Chicago.
Like her son, Castillo was “born and raised in Chicago [in a] neighborhood we used to call Taylor Street,” where she grew up speaking both Spanish and English.
“I was a teenage girl when Martin Luther King, Jr. came through Chicago. I was a girl watching the  Democratic National Convention riots. And that’s the atmosphere I grew up in,” shared Castillo, explaining one of the root inspirations for her activism. “When you have the injustice of a history of people who are underrepresented in the U.S., it’s almost a call to arms.”
“I was expected to start working right after high school. I was not expected to go to college. I sent myself to college,” shared Castillo. “I love learning… going to college was a struggle but I love knowledge so much that I pushed through it.”
Castillo received her Bachelor’s degree from Northeastern Illinois University in art and went on to get a Master’s in Latin American Studies from the University of Chicago.
“When I finished and I got my B.A., I got on a bus and I went to California out of Chicago and I joined Cesar Chavez’s movement. At that time I was writing political poetry and I happened to walk into a community college when I got there to see if they would maybe be interested in my doing a reading there or something and the chairperson offered me a teaching position,” shared Castillo.
Reflecting on her college years, Castillo shared that as an undergraduate student she had a “fear of drugs, fear of not being able to finish because of money, fear of the system, fear of institutions.” But these fears did not hinder her drive. The writer explained, “when I have this challenge, I always think to myself ‘watch me.’”
Connecting Castillo’s experience to K, one student asked how to survive the culture shock of K as a student of color. Drawing upon her own experience, Castillo responded, “in my life I always hook into like-minded people… to fight that every day on every level.” She continued, “I use writing. I use this writing to put those ideas out there. This writing gives me empowerment.”
In the evening, Castillo guest-starred in a book reading at Western Michigan University–one of the four readings for the Gwen Frostic Reading Series, organized by WMU’s Department of English.
“This evening I’ve chosen to share some poetry with you and also to read a little bit from my new book, a combination of memoir and personal essays called Black Dove—Paloma Negra,” a reference to the Mexican song “Paloma Negra.” Other texts included Watercolor Women/Opaque Men: A Novel In Verse, My Father Was A Toltec: and Selected Poems, and The Mixquiahuala Letters.
When asked what advice she offers to young writers, Castillo responded, “wherever you’re from or whatever you’ve been writing, there’s only three pieces of advice I would give anybody… and that is read read read, write write write, and rewrite. Rewriting is really where the magic actually happens. It’s the most tedious–what nobody wants to go do–but that’s really what makes the difference.”
Castillo closed the night with a Black Dove book signing.